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Beautiful hand-colored photographs of Japanese women in the late 19th-century
08.17.2017
10:42 am
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‘Seated Woman.’
 
Kusakabe Kimbei (1841-1934) was a Japanese photographer who learned his trade as an assistant to Felice Beato, the pioneering photojournalist who came to Japan to document its people and their culture. Japan had just been through a civil war that led to the restoration of imperial rule. The country had also been forced—under the shadow of U.S. Navy battleships—to open trading routes with America. This new trade brought technology, tourism, and for some, the opportunity to turn imposition to advantage. And that’s what Kimbei did.

After learning all that he could from Beato, Kimbei established his own photographic studio in Yokohama in 1881. Kimbei had a natural talent for art and had spent part of his time coloring Beato’s photographs. Hand painting photographs was a way of redefining the medium and adding “an artistic Japanese intervention to Western technology.”

Once he established his studio, Kimbei plied his trade producing souvenir photographs of Japanese culture—samurais, geishas, tea drinking, musicians, everyday workers. These photographs maintained Japanese traditions at a time of great social, political, and cultural change when it seemed the very fabric of the country was being irredeemably changed. Among the many pictures Kimbei produced was a large set of portraits of Japanese women and their daily lives. But there’s an interesting thing going on in these photographs. What at first appears to be a straightforward representation is often an idealized or Western view of Oriental life intended for foreign consumption. Yet, at the same time, Kimbei transcends this view by use of color and composition.

This balancing between Japanese and Western media parallels national tensions concerning the degree that Japan should adopt foreign tools and technology, contrasted with a desire to preserve indigenous traditions and practices.

Kimbei became one of the most famous and respected Japanese photographers of his era, and his work gives a rare insight into Japan of the late 19th-century.
 
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‘Flower Kept Alive by Putting in Water.’
 
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‘Girls Carrying Paper Lantern in Winter Evening.’
 
See more of Kimbei’s work, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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08.17.2017
10:42 am
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The last of the Samurai: Beautiful hand-colored photographs of the warriors and their courtesans
05.21.2015
09:43 am
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When photographer Felice Beato arrived in Japan in 1863, he found the country in the midst of civil war. After spending over two hundred years in seclusion, Japan was being forced by the Americans—under a mission led by Commodore Matthew C. Perry—to expand its trade with the west. The country was divided between the Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo and the Imperial Court based in Kyoto. Over the next decade, a period known as the Bakumatsu, Japan was riven as the Imperial order gradually took control. The key moment came when the samurai of the Chōshū and Satsuma provinces defeated the Shogunate in 1867, which led to the restoration of imperial rule under Emperor Meiji.

Beato was an Anglo-Italian, born in Venice in 1832, and raised in the British protectorate of Corfu. He learnt his trade under the renowned photographic pioneer James Robertson, with whom he traveled to Constantinople documenting many British imperial wars fought in Crimea, India and China. Beato’s skill saw him (along with his brother Antonio) hailed as one of the century’s leading photojournalists.

In 1862, Beato sold most of his photographic work and invested the money in the London Stock Exchange, where it was quickly lost. The following year, he decided to quit England and start out on a new adventure, this time to Japan. On his arrival in Yokohama, Beato set-up a business with English artist Charles Wirgman, who drew sketches and engravings based on Beato’s photographs. Travel was dangerous in Japan, with many of the Shogunate samurai warriors killing westerners—in Edo the American legation was burned to the ground and westerners threatened with death. On one occasion, Beato escaped such a fate after declining a tour of Kamakura with two Imperial officers, who happened across two masterless samurais (or ronin) and were beheaded. However, through his contacts in the military, Beato did manage to travel to many of the secluded areas of the country, where he documented the last years of feudal Japan.

Among his first photographs were the portraits of the Satsuma samurais, who happily posed for him. In one group portrait, four samurais symbolically show their strength and ambition by presenting themselves with one standing samurai holding a red book of English literature and one seated with an unsheathed knife—highlighting their hold on western knowledge and their strength in Japanese tradition. As travel became restricted because of the civil war, Beato opened a studio back in Yokohama, where he photographed many samurai warriors and their courtesans.

A selection of Felice Beato’s rare hand-colored photographs will be on display at the London Photographic Fair 23rd-24th May.
 
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More of Felice Beato’s incredible photographs, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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05.21.2015
09:43 am
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